Ballot Box

Early voting is Oct. 13-30 for the Nov. 3 election. Among the races is Texas Senate, District 12, where incumbent Jane Nelson, a Republican, will face Shadi Zitoon, a Democrat. Below are the answers to a questionnaire submitted to the candidates by Star Local Media.

 

Jane Nelson

Republican

Occupation: Businesswoman/former public school teacher

Number of years you’ve lived in this district: 40

 

If elected in November, what would your top three priorities be?

Jane Nelson new headshot

Sen. Jane Nelson

I will listen, work hard and get results on more than three priorities. We have to defeat the coronavirus and get our economy back open for business. We have to make sure our schools have what they need to help children succeed in these difficult times. We have to continue our progress on mental health, women’s health and other health care needs, including COVID.  Other top issues include border security, public safety, protection of our individual rights and addressing property taxes. 

 

What is the biggest issue facing this district, and how would you help resolve it? 

Getting Texas back to school and back to work -- safely.  We have to re-open our economy, while protecting the public health. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I have been working every day to ensure that Texas has what it needs to respond to this pandemic.  I have been in daily, if not hourly, contact with our health commissioner, education commissioner and local leaders throughout this crisis.  We will get through this – thanks in no small part to our doctors, nurses, supply chain workers and all Texans who have been on the front lines.

 

What are the biggest issues concerning the state’s public education funding system, and what are your ideas to help fix them? 

With other states cutting their education budgets during this crisis, I am fighting to maintain the historic increases we approved last session for public education.  I recently helped secure $200 million to purchase technology and hot spots to help bridge the digital divide and help students struggling with the tools needed for virtual learning. Last session I introduced legislation to give every teacher a $5,000 raise.  It passed the Senate but did not advance in the House.  Instead we increased the overall education budget by $6.5 billion with a portion devoted to increasing school district employee pay.  I am closely monitoring the disbursement of these funds – which need to be prioritized to compensating and retaining good teachers.

 

Is more work needed for property tax reform? If so, what are your ideas? 

Having authored legislation that is now law raising the homestead exemption and establishing the senior tax freeze, I recognize that rising property taxes is one of the most important issues facing our community.  Last session we passed Senate Bill 2 to ensure that property tax increases are a deliberate decision by locally elected officials and voters, not a product of perpetually increasing property values. Yes, more work is needed, and the key is to address the appraisal process and unstack the deck against property owners.  We need an appraisal system that serves the taxpayers – not the taxing entities – and I am working on legislation to do that.

 

What would you suggest to help expand healthcare to Texans?

I have introduced several bills to expand access to health care in Texas: a health insurance pool for children in the child support system; a re-insurance program to allow small businesses to band together and leverage affordable coverage. I sponsored legislation establishing the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to help find treatments and fight cancer. I will keep advocating for women’s health, which is funded at an all-time high, and continue the progress we are making on mental health – which is of high concern during this pandemic.

 

What are your ideas to help Texas recover from COVID-19, and what should the state do differently if another wave hits? 

Anytime disaster strikes, the Legislature has a responsibility to look at our laws and processes through a new lens. There are restrictions on businesses that need to be re-evaluated and possibly eliminated.  Our public health apparatus needs to be laser focused on seniors, people with disabilities and other populations at the highest risk.  And when the Legislature convenes in January, we need to have a robust discussion about individual liberties.

 

What changes to the state’s gun laws, if any, would you support? 

I strongly support our right to self-defense, which is guaranteed under the Second Amendment. Our current laws need to be better enforced. Having sponsored the law allowing judges to deny concealed handgun licenses to perpetrators of domestic violence, I believe we need to keep weapons out of the hands of violent predators. I serve on the Senate Select Mass Violence Prevention Committee and pledged to listen and consider all suggestions for addressing senseless acts of violence.

Shadi Zitoon

Democrat

Occupation: Automotive manufacturing

Number of years you’ve lived in this district: 4

 

If elected in November, what would your top three priorities be? 

Shadi Zitoon

Shadi Zitoon

Healthcare: We need to take federal money and expand Medicaid. Our state has lost more than $20,000,000,000 of federal funding and left more than 1,000,000 Texans without health insurance.

Education: We need to ensure our education system is set up to succeed. Part of this is making sure that they have the funds to do the job we ask them to do.

Climate change: We need to work to protect our state’s and our nation’s environment. Part of that comes with transitioning to the future and moving away from fossil fuels as one of our primary industries. We also need an environmental watchdog with teeth.

 

What is the biggest issue facing this district, and how would you help resolve it?

Lack of leadership. All of our elected officials are afraid to do the right thing because they are afraid of being yelled at by their donors and losing their financial support, making their re-election that much harder. Being a leader means sometimes making hard decisions that cause some pain upfront for the long term good. Sending me to Austin means I’m only accountable to you, the voters, and I’ll be available enough that you can actually speak with me regularly.

 

What are the biggest issues concerning the state’s public education funding system, and what are your ideas to help fix them?

School funding must increase. Our teachers are underpaid and overworked, and far too many schools are overcrowded. Adding the new issues that have been caused by COVID, we are not positioning our teachers or our students to succeed. Several of the issues plaguing our schools can be addressed by providing proper funding.

 

Teachers deserve pay that reflects their status as professionals and is competitive with other job markets as many teachers leave the classroom for higher-paying jobs. The best teachers are leaving the classroom because the current public K-12 funding can’t compete with cost-of-living increases while teacher salaries remain the same. Students are the main benefactors of smaller student/teacher ratios, quality, affordable, and accessible Pre-K programs, good infrastructure, exemplary mentoring, and health programs. None of these factors can be adequately addressed by current funding, let alone a decrease in funding.

Several states have reaped the benefits of legalizing and taxing cannabis. This would free up money, that is spent on the failed war on drugs, to be used on more constructive programs. We also need legislation to ensure corporations are paying their fair share and not pushing all the burden onto the individual tax-payers.

 

 

Is more work needed for property tax reform? If so, what are your ideas?

First, because the state has chronically underfunded education, school districts are forced to raise taxes to have money to educate our children. I will restore funding to the education system. I will support the legalization of cannabis and will use those tax revenues for education. We also need to ensure that large corporations are paying their fair share and are not paying a lower rate of property tax than their residential neighbors.

The appraisal process should be clear and transparent with protections in place to prevent taxes from pushing people (especially those on fixed incomes) out of their homes.

 

What would you suggest to help expand healthcare to Texans?

It is baffling to me that we have not expanded Medicaid in this state yet. Medically, we lead the US in all the wrong categories.

I think COVID has shown just how important it is to have healthcare available to everyone at an affordable price. Texas has lost out on more than $20,000,000,000  by not taking federal money to expand Medicaid and left millions without insurance. Not to mention, the health and lives that have been lost due to the lack of medical care it would have provided. 

Expanding Medicaid and allowing small businesses to enroll their employees in the program would take the expense from them and allow greater economic flexibility. It shouldn’t just be the big box stores and massive corporations that benefit from government bailouts. Why shouldn’t we use the tools available to us as one of the highest GDP producing states in the nation to help entrepreneurs through this time?

 

What are your ideas to help Texas recover from COVID-19, and what should the state do differently if another wave hits?

Every path to recovery starts with getting COVID under control. Once people can safely go out again our economy will recover. The key is ensuring that people and businesses can survive until the risk of COVID is over.

All Texans need affordable healthcare. Controlling a pandemic while people can’t afford to go to the doctor if they are sick or even take off work to recover is not the way to do it. We need people to be able to get the treatment they need and have the ability to stay at home to recover instead of going to work and contributing to the further spread of COVID.

Our leaders have abandoned our small businesses with orders that prevent them from opening or allow opening at a capacity that is not sustainable, while also not doing anything to help with the bills that are continually due. We will also need to tap into the rainy day fund to support people. We can expand unemployment benefits to help keep our neighbors afloat and also will help support local businesses. Our economy is just as dynamic as our people and will adjust over time to what is happening.

 

What changes to the state’s gun laws, if any, would you support?

We need to make sure that gun purchases are not being made by those who should not have them while protecting the privacy of those making the purchase. We can accomplish this by using a subsidized FFL to verify the backgrounds of transferees (and ensuring no state registry is kept). I also support legislation holding owners partially accountable for guns that are knowingly lost/ stolen and not reported to the police.

We need to look at the cause of gun violence in our society. Mental health is stigmatized and that stops people who need help from seeking it out. In addition, there is a lack of coverage for many people. Mental health is part of your overall health and should be covered by your health insurance. Expanding Medicaid is one way we can immediately help more than a million fellow Texans have access to healthcare.

 

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